Baby On Board: The Never-Ending Debate

For many years, FlyerTalk members have debated about what to do with babies who cry during flights, as well as whether or not babies should be allowed to be seated in the premium class cabin on an airplane.
There are usually two sides to this debate: FlyerTalk members who defend the parents who travel with babies, and those who are adamant that babies do not belong on airplanes — period.
Steven Frischling — author of the weblog Flying With Fish at BoardingArea — posted an entry yesterday which was originally posted in May 2008 about being a passenger on an airplane near a crying baby during a flight. “Deal with it”, he says.
I would not go so far as to simply say “deal with it”, but I do believe some compassion is in order. Unfortunately, the days where members of extended families lived within minutes of each other are long gone. Using my extended family as an example, there was a time where most of those family members lived in the New York City area. Eventually, due to a number of causes and reasons, I now have family in all four corners of the United States, including the Seattle, San Diego, Fort Lauderdale and New York areas, as well as Washington, D.C. and other areas — and where I am based is located nowhere near any of these locations.
Assuming that this is the norm, should a baby not be allowed to travel to see other family members, such as grandparents, aunts or uncles? If there is a family reunion located too far away from the home of the baby, should the baby not be able to attend simply because the baby would not be allowed to fly as an airline passenger?
The cries of a screaming baby irritate me just as much as the next person — don’t get me wrong. However, not allowing babies on flights simply because they are babies smacks of a form of discrimination. Families should be allowed and encouraged to gather to spend as much time with each other as possible. It is not the fault of the baby if members of the family live so far apart from each other, whatever may be the reasons.
Although there are ways to distance yourself from the annoyance of a screaming baby — such as noise-cancelling headphones, as recommended by Frischling — I am not going to go buy a pair simply for that reason. As I have noted previously numerous times — most recently here — I prefer to pack as light as possible and take as few items as possible, so purchasing noise-cancelling headphones is currently out of the question for me. Besides, I would rather use the money on something else.
When a baby starts crying, my eyes tend to roll and a deep sigh is emitted from my mouth, as I am not exactly the most patient person in the world. However, I do understand that the discomfort a baby may experience can be painful primarily due to the sudden changes in air pressure. Being confined to a small space in a strange environment for hours does not exactly help the situation either. I also understand that no parent wants to purposely see their new child suffer. Parents will usually do what they can to comfort their baby, and they are usually conscious about the effect the crying and screaming has on fellow passengers. Many parents can usually calm their baby within 15 minutes or so. That is certainly reasonable, in my opinion.
Traveling with a baby can be stressful enough — especially when it comes to scheduling and all of the extra items needed with which to transport, such as a car seat, bottles and diapers. Despite the discomfort of a crying baby, there is no need for fellow passengers to unnecessarily stress the parents further with anti-baby rhetoric. Nothing gets solved as a result.
My gripe, however, is the parent who is too lazy to do anything about the crying, screaming baby. That is inconsiderate to fellow passengers as well as to the baby. If a parent is not willing to do whatever is possible to ensure that the baby is as comfortable as possible and has as little effect as possible on fellow passengers, then the parent should either consider alternate modes of transporting the baby — or not travel at all with the baby. In my opinion, it is unfair to have a baby crying and screaming throughout a flight — unfair to both the baby and fellow passengers.
Some parents can take being inconsiderate to a whole new level — such as when FlyerTalk member Analise found a baby strapped to a car seat in her assigned seat aboard the aircraft. The behavior allegedly exhibited by the mother of the baby in question is unacceptable, in my opinion.
By the way, my stance in medicating a baby is to not do so unless absolutely necessary. Drugs should always be a solution of last resort, in my opinion.
In my experience as a frequent traveler for many years — more often than not — babies generally behave well on flights. In fact, I have been known to do a double-take at the end of a flight upon seeing a baby for the first time and think to myself, “There was a baby aboard this aircraft?!?”
Should babies be banned from certain flights? Malaysia Airlines was reportedly toying with the idea of banning babies from being seated in the first class cabin last year. That idea has since been abandoned.
Should there be a separate section reserved for passengers with babies? I do not think so. I remember the days when airlines still allowed smoking sections aboard their aircraft, and I was the unfortunate person who was usually assigned a seat immediately in front of that section, inhaling enough smoke to last me a lifetime and then some. Similarly, what would be the difference of a passenger sitting in that section or within a few rows near it, as that passenger will still be subject to the screaming and crying? Besides, an airline would most likely not consider the expense necessary to properly implement such a concept.
Let”s face it: there is no definitive solution to this issue. Rather, common sense should dictate whether or not a baby should travel as an airline passenger. Every baby is different: some will cry throughout a flight, while others will be quiet and content. Circumstances also play a role as to when a baby will start crying, such as a change in air pressure more sudden and greater than usual, or being seated in an area of the airplane noisier than usual which could prevent the baby from taking a nap. I would suggest the following list of tips — certainly not exhaustive by any means — to parents who are considering traveling by airplane with a baby:

  • Visit your pediatrician to determine the health of the baby during a routine check-up. Let your pediatrician know with as much detail as possible that you are considering taking your baby on a flight before booking your airline tickets to ensure that potential problems are mitigated as much as possible.
  • Book with the airline as soon as possible to attempt to secure the best seats possible on an aircraft. A window seat affords more privacy and exposure to fewer people than a middle seat or an aisle seat. Try to stay away from seats near an engine or a lavatory, where smells or noise could potentially disturb the baby.
  • If feasible, take your baby on a short flight to determine whether or not your baby will be able to tolerate a longer flight — as well as whether or not the baby will be manageable by you.
  • Bring items with which your baby is familiar to keep your baby comfortable and content, such as a favorite toy or stuffed animal. While it is difficult to do, transforming a strange environment into something more familiar can work wonders in keeping your baby from being unhappy.
  • Upon boarding the aircraft, flight attendants are usually more than happy to attend to the needs of your baby and keeping your baby happy. If you are unsure about anything, ask questions. Let them know about anything they need to for your baby, such as warming a bottle of formula.

In addition, passengers should exercise more patience and tolerance about the plight of a baby. Even if flights had no babies aboard aircraft, there are always other potential disturbances that can occur aboard a flight. After all, life is not perfect — no matter the location or situation.
What are your thoughts? Do you have any tips or recommendations to parents wanting to travel as airline passengers with a baby? How can this debate be resolved? Please post your thoughts in the Comments area below.

  1. to be honest its not babies i’ve had an issue with on flights its toddlers and older children, ok so i am a parent but when i travel with my daughter i make sure i bring everything (within reason) that could possibly entertain her, it would appear to have worked, her first school report (she’s 5) says she has high concentration levels!

  2. It is really simple. When my children were babies, we drove a car where their crying only bothered us. Ban any child under the age of 6 on airplanes. I do not pay $500 to be annoyed by an unruly child.

  3. I pay for a seat for the baby when I travel – even when he is under two years of age. So he is a paying customer and that is all the airline really cares about. It has been my experience that adults are usually the most problematic fellow flyers. I recall a trip my husband, two children and I took from Honolulu to Sydney. We were in first class and had to listen to an adult male loudly proclaim that they shouldn’t let kids in first class as he continued to get drunk and hit on his seat mate. My kids were busy the entire flight with books and other diversions and never made noise. Even when the male passenger finally passed out he snored loudly for the rest of the flight. I think the FAs preferred my kids over the adult passenger.

  4. celsius1939 at 6:12am August 28, 2012
    It is really simple. When my children were babies, we drove a car where their crying only bothered us. Ban any child under the age of 6 on airplanes. I do not pay $500 to be annoyed by an unruly child.
    How do you drive a car from California to Hawaii? Or to Europe? Or Asia?
    Maybe you should be banned from flights for your comments. I hope my kid sits next to you on our next flight. 🙂

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